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Fashion & Design Illustrated Books

Flappers at Sea

Sea Legs by Oliver Herford (1931).

This utterly charming little book was placed on my desk by a colleague who knows about my secret desire to be a flapper. Published in 1931 after originally appearing in the periodical The Delineator, Sea Legs was written by the American poet and illustrator Oliver Herford (1863–1935), a prolific magazine contributor best remembered for his humorous books The Rubíáyát of a Persian Kitten  and The Little Book of Bores. He was also famed for his bon mots, and Google reveals that almost everyone believes he was described as “the American Oscar Wilde”, though no one seems to know by whom (and, even if true, he wasn’t the only one – Mark Twain was also saddled with the title). Nevertheless, he was a truly talented humorist and illustrator, with The New York Sun arguing that “There is no one else quite as funny as he is and probably never will be”.

Sea Legs is a satirical alphabet book, relating the delights and annoyances of voyages in the era when traveling between Europe and North America meant spending at least a week at sea, a social event with the opportunity to become intimate, for better or worse, with fellow passengers and crew. Herford’s illustrations of flappers caught in a myriad of titillating shipboard situations are a delight. I’ve included a good selection below, and strongly encourage you to explore the above links to Persian Kitten and Book of Bores. A rare title, this copy includes the dust jacket and a very attractive folding case that reproduces the cover image (see the final picture).

D’s the Deck-steward–

With careful financing

He will give you a chair

Where the view is entrancing.

E’s the Electrical Horse

in the Gym.

It won’t take you far

but ’twill keep you in trim.

F is the flapper

Who walks the first day

By her Lone, but tomorrow

It won’t be that way.

G’s for the Gulls

I wish they’d explain

How they eat such a lot

and their figures retain.

N is the Newly-Weds?

Nay, guess again,

His wife’s in Seattle,

her hubby’s in Maine.

O is the Ocean

a watery waste

With a nauseous motion

and terrible taste.

P is the Pet on his

mistress’s knee

Oh who wouldn’t

envy a Puppy

at sea!

Se is for Sea Legs,

but if you ask me

The way I should spell

it is S double E.

U’s that old Ulster

don’t talk of not keeping it

If you summer in Europe

You’ll sleep, live and

eat in it.

V is the Vamp, who

believes that if she

Should vamp Daddy Neptune

he’d give up the sea.


1 Comment

  1. Nancy December 13, 2011

    simply exquisite 🙂

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